Trails for everyone, forever

Home News Magazine Features I'm Not Alone
Chelsea enjoying a dusting of snow on trail. Photo courtesy Chelsea Murphy.

I'm Not Alone

As a black, outdoorsy woman in a majority white area, I felt alone. But it turns out I’m not — there are black women, and black mothers, exploring the outdoors and finding joy on trails. Here’s how I’m using Instagram to build community — and increase representation for women of color. By Chelsea Murphy.

I grew up in richly diverse cities. I also grew up outside. I was a Brownie Girl Scout, my mom was the troop leader, and we went to camp every year. My family frequented the beaches of San Diego and spent days playing in the sand and surf. My siblings and I rode our bikes until darkness fell on long summer nights.

When I was 9, we moved to Tacoma. My new friends introduced me to camping, lakes, rivers and that Pacific Northwest lifestyle. When I met my husband and started a family, we moved back to his hometown east of the Cascades. It was a shock; this side of the state lacks the diversity I was used to. Since I have moved here, I have tried to find community and comfort in my own skin in an area with few people of color.

When I’d been here a few months, a friend took me hiking and I immediately fell in love with the outdoors again. I have been here for 6 years now and have been working my way up to more hiking, summiting mountains, half-marathons and trail running. But as I was spending all that time outdoors, I thought, “I can’t be the only woman of color living in a mountain town and raising brown babies in and around nature.” I needed to know I wasn’t alone, even though I felt that way at times, in a valley where black people don’t even register on the census!

Chelsea Murphy and family. Photo by Lisha Durbin.jpeg
Chelsea Murphy is proud to be an outdoor role model for her daughters — and for other women of color. Photo by Lisha Durbin (@lishadurbinphotography.

I looked at my “just for fun” Instagram account and I noticed a pattern in the outdoor accounts I followed. It was white men and women posing on mountains. I saw few athletes of color and even fewer mothers of color. 

So, earlier this year, I created my own Instagram account, @she_colorsnature, to inspire diversity in the outdoors. I knew I wasn’t the only woman of color who loves climbing mountains with a baby on her back. I knew I wasn’t the only mom taking solo trail runs and using nature as therapy and stability. It’s awful to keep seeing the outdoor space portrayed as white only and marketed to white folks — so I set out to help change that. I now have more than 3,000 followers excited to see me taking my two beautiful girls on outdoor adventures.

Being a role model for outdoor folks has come naturally, probably because of the foundation my parents gave me. I wish to do this with my girls, too, but on a deeper level. My mission is to create an outdoor environment that is welcoming to people of color — for the future of my kids and for brown kids across the world.

Chelsea and daughter. Photo by Chelsea Murphy.
Chelsea Murphy tries to get outside regularly with her girls, all year round. She also welcomes others along on her trips — both in real life with friends and other parents — or online via her Instagram account. Photo by Chelsea Murphy.

Even as I started my Instagram account to increase the representation of people of color in the outdoors, I’ve kept one promise to myself: I will hike more, but I will never lose sight of why I hike. Hiking helps me be a good mom. It has helped my mental health and eased my postpartum journey. Hiking gets me outside, sometimes with kids and sometimes solo; either way I feel grounded and connected with nature. The benefits in my kids’ growth, imagination and attitudes after a hike are remarkable. I hike for them whether they are with me or not. They need a tangible representation of black people outdoors, and that’s who I am for them. When I hike, it is for these reasons, not for the ’gram!

Even so, Instagram has made my life richer. I’ve connected with other adventurers who want to increase representation of people of color outdoors. I’ve found new hikes in my area and all around the state. I have seen views I never imagined, hidden alpine lakes and rolling Cascade mountain ranges. This spring, I hiked a trail that was just a 10-minute drive from my house. It’s 10 miles and 2,000 feet of elevation gain, and a washed-out road makes access difficult. It was hard, frustrating and a longer day than expected, but I did it; the city kid with brown skin who never felt like an expert hiker. My journey living life in the mountains has been all about growth and experience; summiting that mountain was a moment I will never forget.

I see Instagram as a positive force for the outdoors, but not everyone sees it that way — blaming it for various problems on trail. I think the rise in folks hitting the trails is just a new generation discovering the benefits of being outdoors. Millennials are focusing on mental health, raising awareness about equality in the outdoors and — most of all — we are using nature as therapy and as an escape. I don’t keep my hikes a secret; when someone ask about a location, I kindly share it. Who am I to keep another human from experiencing the joy and happiness I found? I know the land I explore does not belong to me, or even the people who occupy it today.

Young hikers. Photo courtesy Chelsea Murphy.jpeg
Chelsea's daughters enjoying a hike. Photo by Chelsea Murphy.

As Instagram accounts are increasing representation of people of color outdoors, they’re also offering education. An awesome group of outdoor advocates is using their Instagram accounts as tools to educate others and inspire folks to hit the trails — and do it unapologetically and responsibly. My favorite accounts are @pattiegonia, @teresabaker11, @indigenouswomenhike, @katieboue and so many more! They’re unlikely hikers, and I can relate to them. They are advocating for our Earth and helping people understand that nature is for all.

Instagram has allowed me to connect with amazing humans who are fighting for diversity, equity and inclusion in the outdoor community. It has made room for me to network with other people of color and with parents. Instagram has also been a great source of networking with other black women who enjoy the outdoors like me, and for white people who want to be allies and help the cause. I recently collaborated with HikeitBaby, which is geared toward getting parents outside with their kids. I appreciate the connection with founder Shanti Hodges (@hikingmyway), a strong woman who parents outdoors with her son, Mason — and who works hard to be an ally for people of color.

It’s even been a way to make friends in person. I recently met a new mom friend, Paige (@hafapaige) through my account; we are becoming fast friends with a ton of similarities. Thanks to Instagram, I am discovering myself through hiking, representing for my children and finding like-minded friends who uplift me in ways I have never felt before.

Follow along with Chelsea’s efforts and diversify your Instagram feed with @she_colorsnature. Starting the account has been educational, inspirational and completely life-changing for her — and she can’t wait to keep sharing her stories.

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2019 issue of Washington Trails magazine.  Support trails as a member WTA to get your one-year subscription to the magazine.